National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Office of News and Public Information
National Academy of Engineering
Back | Home
News from the National Academies

Date: January 26, 2005
Contacts: Maureen O'Leary, Media Relations Officer
Lauren Morello, Assistant Internet Editor
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

William H. Foege to Receive Public Welfare Medal, Academy's Highest Honor

WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences has selected William H. Foege to receive its most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal. Established in 1914, the medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. The Academy chose Foege for his dedication to eradicating global disease and his leadership in redefining the scope of public health policy in the United States.

"Dr. Foege's impact on the world's health has been extraordinary," said John Brauman, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee. "In terms of lives saved and freed from disease, he has changed the world as we know it."

An epidemiologist, Foege is perhaps best known for his contributions to the successful global effort to eliminate smallpox. Early in his career, he traveled to Nigeria, where he worked to inoculate local populations against the disease. When faced with a critical vaccine shortage, Foege and his colleagues made the difficult decision to vaccinate only those they determined to be at greatest risk of infection -- people in close contact with known victims. Later, as director of CDC's Smallpox Eradication Program, Foege demonstrated the effectiveness of this "ring vaccination" approach, which made it possible to vanquish smallpox from many countries in which as little as one-half of the population had been immunized.

Shifting his focus from the global to the national, Foege was appointed director of CDC in 1977. During his six-year tenure, Foege worked to expand the agency's mission to include injury, violence, and chronic diseases in addition to infectious diseases. Under his leadership, CDC first addressed the emerging problem of HIV/AIDS, implemented a childhood vaccination initiative that resulted in unprecedented immunization levels in school-aged children, and discovered the link between aspirin and Reye's syndrome.

"Dr. Foege has spent his career using science and medicine to help patients -- not just a handful of patients, but millions of people around the world," said NAS President Bruce Alberts. "His leadership and commitment to the public's health have been inspiring."

After retiring from CDC in 1983, Foege helped found the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, serving as the group's director for 16 years. Sponsored by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other organizations, the group's focus has grown from its original goal of increasing childhood immunization rates around the world. Today, the task force also works to improve other aspects of child health and development, stop the spread of infectious diseases, teach injury and violence prevention, and assist public health organizations in developing and disseminating educational materials and other information.

At the Carter Center, which he joined in 1986 as executive director, Fellow for Health Policy, and executive director of its Global 2000 initiative -- Foege continued his efforts to improve the lives of the world's poor, working on programs to eradicate Guinea worm disease and river blindness. Though he resigned in 1992, Foege remains involved with the center's activities as a fellow and director of the Global 2000 program.

In 1997 Foege was appointed Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health at Emory University, and in 1999 he joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Foege was a senior adviser when the foundation was setting up programs to immunize children worldwide against hepatitis B and hemophilus influenza B and in initiating programs to develop vaccines against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Now retired, Foege still works actively with both organizations, serving as an emeritus professor at Emory and a Gates Fellow.

Born in 1936 in Decorah, Iowa, Foege graduated from the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1961. He served an internship at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Staten Island before earning a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University in 1965.

Foege is the author of more than 125 professional publications and has received numerous honorary degrees and awards -- among them the Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award, the World Health Organization's Health for All Medal, and Columbia University's Calderone Prize. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1979 and named a fellow of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1997.

The Public Welfare Medal, consisting of a medal and an illuminated scroll, will be presented to Foege during the NAS annual meeting in May. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter.

[ This news release is available at http://national-academies.org ]